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Afghanistan war: Dutch withdrawal, WikiLeaks don't deter main NATO allies

The Afghanistan war has not been popular in Paris, Berlin, or London. But neither the Dutch withdrawal nor WikiLeaks revelations appears to be a threshold issue for voters.

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British public focused on rising death toll

In Great Britain, all major parties prior to May's national elections ran on a platform to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as quickly as possible. New British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated this position in June in Parliament.

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Yet the Dutch withdrawal, planned on for two years and to be completed in December, is a minor story; WikiLeaks revelations are sharing space with a British media focus on the immediate and intense fighting in Helmand Province where UK forces are taking casualties. Some 327 British troops have died in the country, an increase from some 200 six months ago.

“The main question now is whether the war is worth our boys dying, and is there a plan or strategy?” says Gareth Price, an analyst at Chatham House, a think tank in London. “I don’t think anyone has actually read all of WikiLeaks, where there is so much information, and yet so little. Anyone paying attention knows the war is messy, despite official statements…. If anything, the leaks play into a public question of ‘Why are we there?’ Goals have shifted many times. First it was Al Qaeda. Then Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Then drugs and the Afghan economy. Now we are back to dealing with Al Qaeda and trying to talk with the Taliban.”

French media have covered the WikiLeaks and the Dutch withdrawal. But there’s been little major reaction on its effect on a war that the French public dislikes but accepts as a temporary necessary evil.

Desire for withdrawal linked to clear goal

One common theme in all three capitals is a desire for withdrawal following the accomplishment of some clear goal.

“The mood in Berlin is a withdrawal plan connected with realistic goals,” says the German political consultant. “What do we achieve before we withdraw?”

Mr. Price at Chatham House suggests similarly, “What you hear more frequently [in the UK] is ‘When we withdraw, what do we leave behind?' ”